20th century English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams is perhaps best known for his symphonies and large-scale choral works, however the essence of his music can also be found in his songs. His 1903 House of Life cycle features 6 songs, out of which the most famous one is the second, Silent Noon. Composed before the rest of the cycle, and first published separately, this piece in E-flat major, for Voice and Piano can easily stand alone.
By using the sonnet of renowned 19th century English painter and poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Williams celebrates the beauty of the English language and advances toward the true 20th century English art song. All of the songs in House of Life are written for sonnets from Rossetti’s sonnet-sequence of the same name and thus the continuity of the cycle is enforced both by the music and the lyrics. At the same time, the similarity given by the strict rules of the Petrarchan sonnet-form emphasises the differences in mood, meaning and music between the six songs. Even though the (male) narrator in Silent Noon is optimistic and hopeful, some of the variations in the passages suggest the despairing of love in Song 6 (‘Love’s Last Gift’) which gives this piece an interesting, lyrical atmosphere.